School Shootings about Loneliness? Can We Help?

I recall hearing ages ago that rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power. At first it seems counter-intuitive, but then quickly makes sense. The horrible people committing these acts are attempting to gain something they lack – power.

Simon Sinek (Who I’ve written about often) says in the clip below that school shootings are a new endeavor (16 years since Columbine) that are based entirely on loneliness. And that necessarily, our new technologically connected society is helping to create that sense of loneliness.

The true irony of the connected age: It’s never been easier to connect with anyone in the world and yet it’s never been more difficult to connect with your neighbor. 

I don’t know if you’re old enough to recall Columbine, but in the immediate aftermath the media blamed just about anything not nailed down: Marilyn Manson, violent video games, violent movies, the list goes on. Given the fact nothing like that had happened before, SOMETHING had to be responsible. That same fall I’d started a psychology class in Gainesville and we must have debated the cause for a week and I don’t recall anyone ever blaming loneliness. To hear it now, it seems equal parts obvious and ground breaking – a paradox wrapped up in a centuries-old stone tablet.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fundamentals of why things work the way they do, and why organizations are the way they are. Inevitably, these thoughts take me back to the very heart of what motivates individual human beings: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.


After we’ve covered the basics for survival (the first two tiers) we get immediately to belonging. Sinek’s supposition is that each of these shooters are missing this basic component in their lives, and that if we, as leaders, would make it our mission to help give people a sense of belonging, we could do a lot to limit the instances of these shootings.

Honestly, out of all of the years of speculation I’ve heard on the matter, it makes the most sense to me. The next question becomes, how do you do that? What’s that look like in practice? What’s that look like in the work place? In our communities? Is it even possible in modern communities? Do we, as Student Housing providers, have a responsibility to help connect our Residents to one another – to REALLY make that passionate aspect of our operations and not just say we’re covering that by throwing pool parties every other month?

I don’t know the answers to any of these but I have some thoughts.

Check out Sinek’s theory in the clip below and if you have any ideas about creating a sense of belonging in our schools or our communities, let me know in the comments.



  1. I totally agree with what is being said concerning the causes of the shootings and suicides. I think that if we are going to solve this problem it needs to start in the elementary schools. Children need to be taught that every human life matters and is of great value. I think the problem with loneliness starts in elementary school when children are left out, and not able to connect or fit in with the kids at school. I think something that could help would be for the teachers to help get those kids fit in with a peer group. Maybe when they become aware of a child who seems left out or alone they could set up some kind of activity where they assign other kids to spend one day out of the week that they sit with that student at lunch and ask them a few questions to get to know them and find intetests they have in common. Find a way to help them fit in so they are not left out. Kinda like no child left behind, make it a requirement that kids all have a place at school where they fit in and belong. It would take a lot of work and change but I know there has been alot done in the area of anti-bullying in our schools but not sure if those programs are really working. I hear more and more kids leaving schools and doing cyber schooling which leads to them being alone or not fitting in and then they are just avoiding and the problem is not really getting resolved. I would love to be a part of helping to address this issue.

      1. So, perhaps she is bigoted toward a particular subset (“extremists”) of “[g]un rights” folks. Is being “bigoted” toward extremist groups of any stripe necessarily a bad thing? Similarly, what’s wrong with taking a more confrontational tone or approach toward extremists? For example, I doubt you’d advocate taking a passive or passive-aggressive (even assertive) approach toward Islamist groups.

      2. MILES: So, perhaps she is bigoted toward a particular subset (“extremists”) of “[g]un rights” folks. Is being “bigoted” toward extremist groups of any stripe necessarily a bad thing? Similarly, what’s wrong with taking a more confrontational tone or approach toward extremists? For example, I doubt you’d advocate taking a passive or passive-aggressive (even assertive) approach toward Islamist groups.

  2. There is no evidence to support that mass shooters are any more lonely than any other people. You’re assumptions about Columbine have been debunked as pure myth. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris had a strong circle of friends. Klebold attended prom, with a date, with a group of 12 friends…days before carrying out the attack. There turned out to be virtually no evidence of bullying of Klebold and Harris. This pattern prevails in most mass shootings…sadly the narrative of “loner” shooters persists, as well.

    Psychopathy is not triggered by loneliness. It is its own issue. Your position is dangerously over-simplified.

  3. Loneliness is ONE factor in the equation. Hate, anger, mean troubles with one’s environment. To own and use a gun is a privilege not a right. Some people use a gun to kill flies with. Social skills should be put in place and psychological testing should be a must before a gun is sold.

  4. There was a worse massacre at a school before Columbine, it’s one that few people have heard of, perhaps because it was long before modern mass media as we know it had really completely developed. Look up the Bath School Disaster. From Wikipedia: “The Bath School disaster was a series of violent attacks perpetrated by Andrew Kehoe on May 18, 1927, in Bath Township, Michigan, that killed 38 elementary school children and six adults and injured at least 58 other people. Kehoe killed his wife and firebombed his farm, then detonated a major explosion in the Bath Consolidated School, before committing suicide by detonating a final explosion in his truck. It is the deadliest mass murder to take place at a school in United States history.” It remains as the worst school massacre in American history and gun legislation wouldn’t do anything to stop another one. If you take away guns, there are plenty of creative ways to wreak havoc and destruction, the kind of creativity that people who are obsessed enough with the idea of getting back at society will definitely come up with, but then the victims will be less likely to have the means to fight back.

  5. You lost all credibility as soon as you said “psychology”. Psychology is a religion, not a real science. That “hierarchy of needs” belongs in the same dumpster as Operating Thetan levels and the Seven Deadly Sins.

    1. WDS: “Psychology is a religion”???? Not a real science???? Who do you think you are? You sound a lot like Tom Cruise and his distorted view of Life due to his devotion to Scientology!

  6. Not always true. I was a loner because I was picked on, teased, run away from, and called unfriendly names, Yes, I was a lonely child growing up, and was very quiet, but I was the only one out of 5 kids that graduated high school. Why, because I didn’t give up, and I’m glad.

    I never ever thought about killing anyone, although I did cry a lot and did feel sorry for myself at times. But after I surrendered my life to God, I saw things in a new light, and eventually became who I am today; a positive, happy Christian who now has a great outlook on life, and has all kinds of hope, love for others because I FORGAVE ALL OF THOSE WHO HURT ME. That was the action that set me free.

    1. Agree with the not “always” part. But from personal experience there is some truth in this. It’s not necessarily about getting picked on or people being overtly hostile towards you. When I was in school I was just nobody. Nobody knew me. I wasn’t disliked, I hung around, tried to make jokes, but none of it was genuine. It left a weird impression on everyone I interacted with. Just enough to kinda forget me. I had hardly any friends, which meant no one I could turn to. Life at home was miserable. I grew up in poverty in a relatively well-off neighborhood, parents were more obsessed with beating each other in a court battle to notice the kid. Dad was too busy down a bottle to notice the court, until I did something wrong. You can bet that then I faced the worst of it then.

      I grew up religious and it let me down. I’m not saying don’t believe it. It’s obviously done wonders for you and I’m happy for you. I’m just saying it went quite the opposite way for me.

      The only one I ever wanted to hurt was the dad. I carried a knife around everywhere I went waiting for him to just give me a reason to call it self defense. But those thoughts were there. There was this nagging superiority complex that I had to have to protect myself. I had to tell myself “these guys have no idea how easy they have it” in order for me to look past the petty teenage drama. “If they had any idea how hard life actually was, they might see that I’m cut deep. They might take the time to understand.” It never happened. “They’ll grow up.” I said. “Trauma builds character.” I joked. All excuses for why no one was around. All excuses for why I should wait and see before I fix my problem permanently.

      I got out. I grew up. Made a life for myself with genuine, caring people. I still struggle with faith, but I get my ethics elsewhere. I will tell you, for a fact that the few people who took the time just to talk to me, to put up with some of my sadness for a second, are the only reason I’m here today. I was lonely.

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